The Girl From Monaco
Directed by Anne Fontaine
Though set in Monaco and directed by a Luxembourgian, The Girl From Monaco is the kind of breezy, fun, beautiful and thematically daunting psycho-sexual thriller that only the French seem capable of pulling off. In Monaco to defend a woman accused of murder, famous Parisian lawyer Bertrand Beauvois (Fabrice Luchini) becomes ensnared in a local weatherwoman's (Louise Bourgoin) games of lust and manipulation while being looked after by her ex, a bodyguard (Roschdy Zem) hired by his client. Director Anne Fontaine hones in on the uneasy details of their love triangle, the tests of allegiance they pose for each other, and the nuances that set these characters apart from the archetypes they draw on. Though the early forecast might call for a sunny sex farce, come prepared for cloudy sexual politics and a surprisingly stormy outcome.
Middle-aged Bertrand, for instance, is less a slimy lawyer than a robed philosopher, the kind of courtroom soliloquist who spins arguments as if reciting poetry. Outside office hours he's incredibly romantic, eloquent and gullible, bitterly aware of it and yet helpless. Christophe, the thirty-something Algerian-Monegasque bodyguard, is an old soul who over-compensates for his teenage delinquencies by acting a tight-lipped straight shooter, still equally capable of sudden outbursts of anger and warm kindness. Audrey, the spectacularly sexual weatherwoman (one of many parallels between this film and Claude Chabrol's A Girl Cut in Two), knowingly plays into the blond bombshell stereotype to get ahead. Still, her idea for a reality TV show about celebrities and their pets is, well, surprisingly predictable.
As relations with Audrey prove destructive to the bewitched lawyer — who by now has all but fallen for his bodyguard as well — Fontaine turns Monaco into a bright, scary playground. By day it's all sun-splashed coast, and swanky hotels and offices, and then flashy clubs and parties when Bertrand spends late nights with Audrey and her frat-like posse of friends (always shadowed more or less inconspicuously by doubly jealous Christophe). Audrey's obsession with Princess Diana, and a visit to the spot where Princess Grace drove off the road to her death might not be the subtlest kind of foreshadowing. Still, those two women's personas — the former always wrestling control of her image from others, the latter an often-willing participant in her objectification — spell out the extremes Audrey is trying to negotiate.
Adding another wrinkle to the story of a doomed, strong-willed woman, Fontaine pushes the relationship between Bertrand and Christophe to the limits of homoeroticism (and exoticism). Brilliantly, just as their story comes full circle, the trial that brought Bertrand to Monaco turns out to be a near-perfect mirror version of his drama with Christophe and Audrey. Though it bears similarities to other doomed romances — some of the courtship comedy reminds of early Woody Allen, while more unsettling scenes feature shades of Vertigo, David Lynch and Jean-Luc Godard, and the final shot quotes The Passenger — The Girl From Monaco introduces new problems to the familiar equation. And as much as Fontaine evokes the many films whose characters and narrative devices she draws upon, she also manages to keep us guessing and provoke new and unexpected questions. Though it may look like a familiar cloud on the horizon, by the time The Girl From Monaco has passed, you won't be entirely sure what just hit you.
Opens July 3